Trans fats are, or were, everywhere. This artificially created form of fat has been used to fry foods, to flavor foods and even as a food itself. You’re probably most familiar with trans fats as shortening or butter substitutes but you’ve likely eaten a lot more of these sneaky fats than you realize. In the 1990s, though, research revealed just how bad for you trans fats are and since them the FDA and other organizations have been working to limit the amount of trans fats in our foods. Most recently, the FDA has taken the initial steps towards what could effectively be a ban on trans fats. What are these maligned substances and why is everyone out to get them?
What They Are and What They Do
As mentioned, trans fats don’t generally occur in nature, apart from a few very rare occasions. Usually, trans fats are created by adding hydrogen to a vegetable oil to increase its shelf-life. This carries over to the food that the oil is then added to, acting as a preservative while giving the food a less greasy feel than other fats.
Here’s the problem: Trans fats are terrible for you. Although scientists aren’t really sure why, the simple addition of hydrogen gives the oil the dangerous ability greatly increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, while lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol. In the long run, this can increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
It’s pretty plain, then, that trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. So, like the health-conscious consumer that you are, you’re going to carefully check all the labels on your foods, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
The FDA has a strange little rule that allows food manufacturers to label their product as containing 0g trans fat as long as the food has less than 0.5g per serving. While a half a gram really isn’t much, if you have multiple servings that could easily add up and bring you way above healthy levels.
In fact, many experts don’t think there are any “healthy levels” of trans fats and insist that the substance should be avoided completely.
To get around these tricky labels and bring your trans fat intake closure to the healthy level of zero, try sticking to whole foods. Be especially careful with processed, mass-produced baked goods like cookies or cakes.
Look out for “partially hydrogenated oil” as well. This invasive ingredient could also means that there’s a touch of trans fat lurking in your meal.